John Gabriel Borkman
Director: Simon Stone
Writer: Henrik Ibsen
Cast: Martin Wuttke, Birgit Minichmayr, Caroline Peters, Max Rothbart, Nicola Kirsch, Roland Koch, Liliane Amuat
Part of: Wiener Festwochen
Seen on: 28.5.2015
Ella Rentheim (Caroline Peters) returns home to see her estranged twin sister Gunhild (Birgit Minichmayr) and Gunhild’s husband, John Gabriel Borkman (Martin Wuttke). Borkman was disgraced in a financial scandal and hasn’t left the attic since he was released from prison. Gunhild, too, is eccentric, to say the least. Only Gunhild’s and John Gabriel’s son Erhart (Max Rothbart) has a halfway normal life – which he had to fight for. Ella’s arrival makes all of them confront the past and try to rearrange their lives.
The play, unfortunately, didn’t work for me at all. Judging by the audience’ enthusiastic reaction though, my boredom and exasperation at the show seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
During the entirety of the play the stage was covered with fake snow and it kept snowing throughout. That looked pretty cool – for the first few minutes. But after that I felt that it got immensely tiring for the eyes to watch, if not to say nauseating. I felt like I was going snowblind.
That decidedly uncomfortable feeling made every second of the play feel like five, which meant that the entire thing felt like it was way too long. I don’t know if my boredom came from that or if it was a separate phenomenon, but I was pretty bored. But I think that was less the snow than the fact that much of the humor was lost on me – I’d hear the audience roaring around me and think “oh, so that was funny right now? Must have missed the joke…”
And there was also the fact that I just didn’t care for John Gabriel himself. Had the play been about the two sisters, with Borkman being more or less a footnote in their relationship, I might have enjoyed it a little more. But I didn’t get why I should be interested in a cranky asshole who has nothing but self-pity over the fact that he ruined quite a few people’s lives with his transactions. Unfortunately we’re supposed to root for him, supposed to be happy that at the end he gets some kind of closure, when I wanted closure (that is denied) for the other characters.
At least the cast was great, with two caveats: one, the play doesn’t spend much time on fleshing out Gunhild, who remains a one-note character despite Minichmayr’s best and considerable effort. Two, it was irritating how much older Borkman looked than both Gunhild and Ella. They were supposed to be roughly the same age, I think, but he looked at least 30 years older than the both of them.
In short, the play didn’t work for me at all, neither the writing nor the production, nor ultimately the cast. But judging by the audience reactions and the reviews from other people, I’m rather alone with my opinion.